A few days a week, about 900 students and staff at Livingston Public Schools dine on dishes like tacos and burgers made with beef raised on a ranch just 20 miles away.
Along with local beef, students are served a side of education. They learn about local ranching, their area’s ecosystem and the impact of buying local. To boot, they personally meet real cowboys and cowgirls during classroom visits and ranch field trips.
“Some of our kids are arriving to school passing farms and ranches, but the Beef to School project is helping kids make those connections between our ecosystem, agriculture history, what they learn in the classroom and what they see on their lunch tray,” says Rachael Jones, director of Livingston Farm to School. “I think Beef to School is important in educating and developing our new generation of local-food consumers.”
The Montana Beef to School program started three years ago to bring together ranchers, processors and schools in a partnership that puts local beef on school menus, supports the local economy and provides a farm-to-fork education for the next generation of consumers. In summer 2017, the Livingston School District partnered with Felton Angus Ranch in Springdale and a regional processor in Butte to obtain what Jones says is superior beef product at a competitive price. The Park County ranch provides 100 percent of the school’s beef – about 800 pounds a week – in a move that takes the district’s Montana Beef to School project hyper-local.
“Not only are we serving Montana beef, we are serving strictly Park County beef in our school throughout the year,” Jones says. “When we finally shook hands with the local ranchers to do this, I remember someone saying, ‘We should have been doing this a long time ago.’”
Backing Beef to School
The Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA), a lead organization in the Beef to School effort, hopes to duplicate partnerships like this throughout the state, where cattle outnumber humans 2.5 to 1.
“We’re a huge beef-producing state,” says Steph Hystad, marketing officer for the MDA. “Because we have that resource here, including local beef in schools is low-hanging fruit
in a lot of communities.”
Buying Montana beef aligns with the Livingston School District’s evolving goal to serve as much local food as possible. The school district already buys some pork, milk, wheat and produce from local farms or processors. The district’s students grow their own trout and vegetables through Farm to School programming.
“While the quality of school food has absolutely improved and I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished as a community, I am acutely aware of areas in which our school food system still needs improvement,” Jones says. “Beef to School is an obvious fit, with big wins for our schools and community.”
Committed to Community
But, perhaps Yellowstone Grassfed Beef’s favorite part of the program is meeting the students, giving them beef samples and explaining grassfed beef. This community-service component of Beef to School supports one of the company’s missions of community health.
“Feeding local kids food from the landscape they call home is not only making them healthy and strong, and giving them an appetite for local food and Montana beef,” says Alice Buckley, managing director for Yellowstone Grassfed Beef. “But it also is reaching a group of kids who will eventually be in decision-making capacities to move the needle on where their food is coming from.”